Joe Williams has had to prove himself from the first day he arrived at the University of Utah.
The Utes running back is having to prove himself once more.
Williams has been trying to convince NFL teams he’s committed to football after briefly “retiring” from the game last fall.
That process really got underway last month at the NFL Combine, where Williams could explain his dismissal from Connecticut before his sophomore season and why he was ready to walk away from football only to come back a month later.
“It was necessary. Everybody read about what happened this season,” Williams told me. “So for me to be able to sit down one-on-one and explain it all to coaches and scouts and GMs was great for me to be able to get it off my chest and put it behind me.
“Those questions have been answered and I’ve been genuine about them.”
Williams, 23, was still haunted by the sudden death of his 7-year-old sister a decade ago. During his month away from football, he did a lot of soul-searching.
When he did come back, Williams shined for the Utes. The 5-11, 210-pound Allentown, Pa., native ran for 1,407 yards with 10 touchdowns and a 6.7-yards-per-carry average. He capped his college career with 222 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries in a 26-24 win over Indiana in the Foster Farms Bowl as the Utes finished the season with a 9-4 record.
“Once he came back to the team at Utah… he ran like a second-round talent player, like he’s going to be an NFL starter,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said of Williams. “He has NFL starter ability. You see big-time burst. He’s got excellent change of direction. I thought he had good vision. He is an explosive player. He gets out in the open field, he’s gone.
“When you factor in all the off-the-field stuff, try to put all that together, I don’t think he’s going to go that high. I think you’re probably talking about him in the fifth-round range. If he is dedicated and on it, ability-wise, he could be a big-time steal for somebody.”
Williams has also matured quite a bit since his dismissal from UConn.
Williams said in 2015 he “had hit rock bottom” after getting kicked out of Connecticut for using a stolen credit card. But he got a second chance at Utah and made the most of it.
“It was a chance and opportunity that I didn’t take for granted and am so blessed it was able to happen,” Williams said.
His parents have noticed a change in his maturity level, especially since he married his girlfriend four months ago.
“My parents, especially my mom, have seen me really be more of a man toward my academics and football, especially, and understanding you have to cherish the opportunities you’ve been given,” Williams said. “You can’t take anything for granted.”
Williams hopes he’s done enough over the last few months, like a 4.41-second time in the 40-yard dash at the combine, to get his shot with an NFL team. Williams has had private workouts with the Eagles and Cardinals and also met with the Vikings and Buccaneers, among others.
Despite his past, Williams said his character is actually one of his best attributes and he has the “innate qualities a team in the NFL wants to represent the brand and logo.”
All he needs is one team to agree.